Archive for the ‘Grace’ Category

A servant of all

Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

 –The Westminster Shorter Catechism, questions 33 and 35

The New Testament is clear on the means of salvation.  Salvation from sin and death can be attained through faith alone—in Latin “Sola Fide.” Christ followers attain justification before God through faith in Jesus as their personal savior and no longer live under the condemnation of the Law. Their sins are forgiven and they are restored to a perfect relationship before God.  Jesus cruel death was the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. “It is finished!” (John 19:30), were the final words spoken in the redemption of mankind. Through his glorious resurrection, Jesus overcame sin and death and opened the door to salvation for all who believe on His holy name.

No matter how hard one may try to attain salvation through good works, they are destined to fail. The Apostle Paul tells us, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law” (Romans 3:20a). That said, we should not be quick to underemphasize the value of good works. Paul tells us in Philippians 2, to work out our own salvation in fear and trembling.  This “working out” is the process of sanctification, that lasts a lifetime, as believers are called to continually strive to become more Christ-like. Sanctification is as much about the process as it is the destination.

Many Bible critics contend that James 2:14-25 is not consistent with the doctrine of salvation through faith alone (sola fide). My understanding of James is that these critics take it out of context. Where James stresses deeds (works), he is speaking in the context of sanctification (striving to be more Christ-like) and not about justification (the forgiveness of sin and restoration into a right relationship with God).  

When we consider sanctification, it would be a mistake to overlook the role of good works. One day Jesus overheard several of his disciples arguing. It turned out they were arguing about which of them was the greatest among Jesus’ disciples. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35).  Jesus gave his disciples an example of a servant’s heart when He washed their feet, as described in John chapter 13.

Are you a Christ follower?  Are you striving to become more Christ-like?  I hope you answered yes to both questions.  While you may not be able to cast out demons, raise the dead, give sight to the blind, or cleanse lepers, there is an abundance of good works needed in Christ’s kingdom. In Romans chapter 16, Paul’s final greetings to a handful of Christian brothers and sisters provides some clues. He tells them to greet each other with a holy kiss, that is be kind to one another. Paul repeatedly recognizes women who worked very hard for Christ. He recognizes others who have sponsored a church in their home.  He cites others who have demonstrated hospitality to fellow believers. Paul even recognizes the mother of a friend who has also been like a mother to him.

Sanctification does not come without a price. Paul’s greeting mentions some friends who risked their lives for Christ, others who have withstood testing of their fidelity to Christ, and yet others who served time in prison with him. Are you ready to accept the risks of becoming more Christ-like?  Are you “working out” your own sanctification? Are you willing to let your life become a doormat where others will wipe their feet? Are you ready to become a servant of all?  

Sanctification means nothing less than the holiness of Jesus becoming mine and being exhibited in my life. The most wonderful secret of living a holy life does not lie in imitating Jesus, but in letting the perfect qualities of Jesus exhibit themselves in my human flesh.  –Oswald Chambers

*All Bible quotations are NIV.

Making friends

A friend to all is a friend to none.  –Aristotle

I have hundreds of friends.  At least that is what my social media accounts tell me. The concept of friendship has changed significantly over the years, especially since the advent of the internet and social media. Social media friendships are so easy to make—just press the “Add Friend” button.  But what is a real friend?

Speaking to his disciples, Jesus explained friendship like this in John 15:13 (NIV), “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Whoa!  That rules out most of my social media friends. Real friendships, at least in Jesus’ definition, require personal relationships and a willingness to make sacrifices.

A real friend walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”  –Walter Winchell

So, what is real friendship?  I do not profess to have all the answers, but here are some things I have discovered about real friends:

  • They are there for you when others walk away.
  • They meet you where you are, warts, wrinkles and all.
  • They will make time for you, even when they cannot spare it.
  • They expect nothing in return and do not keep score.
  • They are good listeners.
  • They respect confidentiality.
  • They tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.
  • They say, “Wow, you really screwed this up! Now how can I help you fix it?”
  • They walk beside you in the demon filled valleys.
  • They are at their best when you are at your worst.

For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.  –St. Teresa of Avila

I am blessed with an abundance of friends.  They know who they are. Most are fellow brothers or sisters in Christ. Thinking about what I like most about my friends makes me wonder if it is possible to be a friend of God?  I believe it is. In Daniel 3, Daniel was bound and thrown into a fiery furnace because he refused to worship an image of King Nebuchadnezzar. God, presumably a preincarnate Jesus, appeared in the blazing furnace with Daniel. David, despite his many serious flaws, had such a close relationship with God that God called him, “a man after my own heart,” (Acts 13:22). God called Abraham “my friend” (Isaiah 41:8b). And God spoke to Moses face to face, “as a man speaks with a friend” (Exodus 33:11a). The closeness of God to these individuals was not due to their righteousness, as all were flawed. These friendships were a result of God’s grace and mercy.

God is eager to be your friend, but He is unlike your other friends in one important way. God wants you to be his disciple. Jesus, God the Father’s only begotten son, lived up to his own teaching that, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Are you ready to let God mold and shape your life like potter’s clay?  Then lay down your life at his feet, pick up your cross and follow Jesus.

 He (Jesus) washes us in Baptism and gives us new, clean clothes of goodness and holiness to wear—His own good clothes, to be ours forever. Finally, He gives us life—His own everlasting life, which He won for us when He rose from the dead, never to die again. Dr. Kari Vo, The Lutheran Hour.

Give thanks to God

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.  –Psalm 107:1*

Recently I’ve been pondering what it means to give thanks to God. The Bible is full of examples of thanksgiving being lifted up to the Lord.  After giving it much thought, I’ve come to several conclusions. First and foremost, thanking God is my way of acknowledging His supreme authority and position in my life.  God gave me life! Everything that is good in my life is a gift from Him.

I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. –Psalm 69:30

Second, there are multiple ways to give thanks to God.  These include praying; through the written, recorded and spoken work; in song; in giving of one’s time and treasure; and in prayerfully doing good works for others with no motive other than serving God. I write this blog as a thank offering to God. There are many other ways of thanking God that area not listed here. It occurs to me that we can thank God in almost any situation we encounter throughout the day. Continually thanking God can help one remain cognizant of God’s endless presence in his or her life.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  –I Thessalonians 5:16-18

Third, we are to thank God in all circumstances, both the easy times, the difficult ones and those in between.  In Philippians 4, the Apostle Paul tells us he has learned to be content whatever his circumstances. This is a tough one. In my lifetime I’ve had some real tragedies. When tragedy strikes, it is particularly difficult to discern any good at the time.  Over the years I’ve learned to pray to God for strength to get me though the difficulties and to give me wisdom to understand.  While it was difficult to discern the good at the time, in retrospect each difficult period of my life was a time of learning and spiritual growth that helped prepare me for God’s eternal kingdom.   

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!  –2 Corinthians 9:15

Finally, give thanks to the lord for his grace in offering us salvation through Jesus Christ.

Doxology

I thank you, God, for your grace, the gift of life and my salvation through Jesus Christ.  Thank you for the Godly women who helped lead me to the Savior in my childhood. Thank you for loving aunts, uncles, and grandparents who helped raise and care for me after my parents divorced. Thank you for the churches and teachers who helped nurture and train me along the way. Thank you for giving me a godly wife to share my life with. Thank you for my children and grandchildren who bring joy to my life. Thank you for friends and family who have added richness to my life. Thank you for protecting and shielding me during times of trouble. Thank you for the work that enables me to sustain my family. Thank you for this day and all my days to come. Thanks be to God!

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,

Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;

Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way,

With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today. 

Hymn – Now Thank We All Our God:

*All Bible quotes are NIV.

Stay close to the word

“The Bible is not an option; it is a necessity. You cannot grow spiritually strong without it.” –Billy Graham

I’m shocked at how many professing Christians I’ve met know very little about the Bible. How can this be? The biblical Hebrew faith placed great emphasis on reading the Scriptures aloud and then interpreting the reading. Luke 4:14-20 tells us:

“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’”

When the people of Israel returned to Jerusalem after years of Babylonian captivity, the scribe Ezra brought the Book of the Law of Moses before them to read. Nehemiah 8:3 tells us, “He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.” Not only did the people listen to the reading of the Law from early morning until midday; they paid attention; they rose to their feet when Ezra opened the book (v.5); answered “Amen, Amen,” at the reading of the book (v.6); stood in their places (v.7); they all wept when they heard the words of the Law (v.9); and the people departed with great joy “because they now understood the words that had been made known to them” on that day (v.12).

The early Christians adopted a model of the public reading and interpretation of Scripture in worship; it has remained the practice in most Christian churches through the centuries. I was raised as a Southern Baptist, a denomination that emphasizes lifelong Bible study and exposes children to the Scripture from a very early age.  This occurs through the spoken word in sermons and Scripture readings during worship services; and by studying Scripture in Sunday school, Children’s Church, Bible studies, and other settings. The sermon is the centerpiece of the worship service. Immediately following the sermon there is a call by the preacher to respond to the sermon’s message by walking to the front of the sanctuary and professing one’s faith publicly or making a public rededication of one’s life to Christ.

Today I am an Anglican. Anglican worship services focus on “Word and Table,” the latter being the sacrament of Holy Communion. As for the word, Anglicans maintain a theological position that proclaiming the word is a means of grace; the word includes the sermon, but the emphasis is on proclaiming the witness to God in Jesus Christ and on God’s grace that flows through the proclamation. This proclamation is made both through Scripture reading and preaching a sermon. Sermons usually focus on one or more of the scripture selections in the appointed Lectionary readings of the day. The idea of the word places emphasis on the proclamation of Scripture as the spoken word of God that bears witness to the incarnate Word in Jesus Christ. However, it is not simply that it bears witness. The spoken word becomes the living and active word of God so that God speaks through the spoken word of Scripture. The spoken word becomes a means of grace.

Anglicans view the living word as a vehicle for performing God’s work in this world. As Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.’ Ephesians 8:17 calls the word “the Sword of the Spirit.”  The sword imagery is significant, as a sword is a weapon used both to deflect blows from an adversary and to strike back at one’s adversary.  When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), he refused Satan’s offers, citing Scripture as His defense and as a means of compelling Satan to depart from Him. Divine power flows from the words of Scripture.   

So, circling back to where I began, Christians need to study Scripture and theology! The late Rev. Dr. R. C.  Sproul explained it like this: “Many people believe that theological study holds little value. They say, ‘I don’t need theology; I just need to know Jesus.’ Yet theology is unavoidable for every Christian. It is our attempt to understand the truth that God has revealed to us—something every Christian does. So, it is not a question of whether we are going to engage in theology; it is a question of whether our theology is sound or unsound. It is important to study and learn because God has taken great pains to reveal Himself to His people. He gave us a book, one that is not meant to sit on a shelf pressing dried flowers, but to be read, searched, digested, studied, and chiefly to be understood.”

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  –2 Timothy 3:16-17

Beware of bartering the Word of God for a more suitable conception of your own.  –Oswald Chambers, Disciples Indeed

Click the link below for ideas on how to start a daily devotional habit.

 https://www.woh.org/2022/01/24/how-to-start-a-devotional-habit/